banishment, statelessness and the cost of love

14 11 2014

Love may cover a multitude of sins, but wouldn’t prison be better? Or if not prison, the good old days of banishment, when sinners were cast out of the city walls to fend for themselves. Guilty or not guilty, being suspected was enough to pacify the mob. Send them out! Scapegoats, if you like, carrying the sins and fears of the community on their backs. Out of sight, out of mind.

The struggle against fundamentalist jihadists is a real problem for our liberal democracy. Many are genuinely reaching the end of their liberal tether of benevolence and free speech. Deeply and firmly held beliefs about a god other than Economy terrify the policy-makers and the tabloids and therefore everyone else. So if someone sets out to destroy – or even challenge – the way that we live, increasingly the reaction is as fundamentalist and those we are ‘against’.

Just look at the reaction to the Occupy movement in Parliament Square over the last few weeks. Ordinary people challenging the priests of Economy, faced with detention and arrest. For what? Standing? And if we cannot cope with dissension from within, how on earth will we manage dissension that is far, far more serious. Like returning jihadists.

The option the Government want is more powers. Powers to barr them from entry, to take passports, effectively to render them ‘stateless’, someone else’s problem. Banishment. Suspects, that is. Whilst I understand the thinking behind this – how can we welcome home people who have engaged in a war on the other side to ourselves? – love steps in.

Love? What’s love got to do with it?

Love – love as action, love as intentional choice, love as principle – love says that the rights of those we disagree with are just as valid as those we agree with. Love says that a citizen of this country is exactly that – a citizen, therefore afforded the rights of a citizen, which include innocent until proven guilty (remember that?). We are not a totalitarian dictatorship intolerant of dissent or free-thinking; we are a liberal democracy with all the freedoms that brings. And a consequence of that freedom is people are allowed to exist who disagree with us. Who even want to destroy us. 

We cannot allow ourselves to arrive at a place where people can be arrested or de-citizened for being suspected of something, without going through the proper criminal justice system. It can be hard to understand how frightening this policy is unless you put yourself in the place of someone it might apply to, which is unlikely to be the standard middle-aged white males in an office who write this stuff (stereotype alert, apologies). 

Whilst it may pain us to stand up for the rights of people who are different from us or who we vehemently disagree with, love commands us to do so, because love is not sentimental mush but a hard-core challenge to our desire for self-protection and to look after those who are ‘like us’.

Instead of increasingly oppressive edicts from above, the Government needs to work hard at local community level to get alongside and understand what makes young men go to fight in Syria. One way this could have been done is through statutory youth work provision, but the priests of Economy think that is too costly. Sutton’s local council youth budget was cut by over 50% in 2011.

But love is costly, love takes the long view. And love does not banish. 

ideology upside-down

3 09 2014

Ideology. Now there’s a loaded word. It tends to be associated these days with hard-liners and loonies. It’s an old-fashioned kind of concept. But what it means is the system by which you hold to your principles. The foundation on which you build your decisions. 

There is a dearth of ideology in the public sphere. It used it be that – politically – the parties were ideologically motivated, and were overt in that. Now, ideology is generally second-best to whatever works for me right now. Which means – politically – that like chameleons we will change our policies to keep public opinion on our side.

Maybe it has always been so. There is no golden era. But currently that dearth of political ideology – other than the need for power and control – sits alongside a dearth of social ideology too. We the public don’t really know what we stand for either. So we don’t notice that those in power don’t stand for us, because we don’t what it would mean if they did.  

Why am I saying this? The Government’s response to the British men going to fight for the IS militants in Iraq and Syria. Those young men have at least one thing most of their peers do not – an ideology. Albeit a terrifying one – 13th century ideology & theology with 21st century weapons is a horrific combination. The Government’s response is about power and control. As it has been with dealing with the deficit. In this case, it is to take away passports; to deny British citizens their citizenship.

While it might sound a good ‘robust’ approach, it doesn’t get underneath the problem and ask why it is that British-born young men are able to be so convinced by such an inhumane ideology. Is it because there is nothing to counter it? Instead of threatening to take away passports after the event, we should be working alongside our youth – regardless of religion or background – helping them to understand themselves, to find they way in the world, to work out what is important to them and why.

This used to be called education. Youth work. This was where it happened. But now education is basically exam-factory and youth work is all but disappeared. We need it back! We need our young people to know what they stand for, to understand their ideology, even when they don’t realise they have one. 

Christians have an ideology. We don’t always get it right, but mostly we know what we stand for. To love God, and to love our neighbour. Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit, the humble, the mourners, the peacemakers, the gentle. That is a confident, robust ideology that turns power and control and money-making on its head. That seems like a good place to start.

See more spoken word from Dai Woolridge at 


how to not really have plan

13 09 2011

There are many books about how to be a good leader. There are many strategies on church growth. There are many conferences for conference types to share conferencey ideas. I haven’t yet seen a book, strategy or conference called “how to not really have a plan”. Funny that. Though most of us work that way.

a building, not a church

Do I? Well, I do have a plan, it’s just it… changes. Or maybe it’s not so much a plan as an idea, or a vision, or a hope. I know roughly where I am going but I haven’t planned how to get there. That doesn’t make for a very good book.

Let’s begin 2 1/2 years ago, when we first felt the call to come here. On paper it didn’t look our kind of thing. A small church with roughly 14 older ladies, one child, fortnightly robed HC services, no musicians, no kids work, living under the shadow of threatened closure. So many people said to me, what is your plan?

My response was always: I have no idea. How can I know until I am there? Except to love. We will go, and we will love. But you must have some idea, people said. Nope. Except that I feel that God has called us here, and that we will not achieve anything unless we love. And we could not achieve anything without the foundation of 80 years that has gone before us, and specifically the prayer that led to the parish and the then Bishop supporting a new appointment in an apparently dead-end outpost of a cash-strapped and difficult parish. That was brave.

"...and this is how not to have a plan..."

Here we are 2 years later, with an average of 25 -30 adults and 10-15 children on a Sunday, which has blown us away. And brought its own problems! 2 adults to 1 child is a pretty tricky ratio, and not a problem we foresaw! But what a problem to have. Especially as the 14 ladies are still on board.

And those of you who have followed our story on this blog will know about the detached youth work we found ourselves doing, which began as chasing people off the roof and grew into our trampoline ministry, and supporting families and helping young people into college; and this week we take on a new risk as our youth work student begins for the year, with the plan to build on the detached youth work. Apparently not many churches take on youth workers specifically to do detached work – maybe we are about to find out why.

I wanted to tell you about it, because it is exciting. I wanted to tell you about it because I haven’t seen this sort of change happening before. I know it does, I have read about it, but always with a cynical and jealous tone. Ministry is not a competition, but I have yearned for stories to tell. And here we have them. It is a fragile ministry, as I have written before. My boss is going on maternity leave as the youth worker begins, upping my workload considerably; 2 people leaving or falling ill could cause everything to crumble; we have gained a son in the last year which has changed our availability and energy levels; the parish has no money for new projects; people growing in faith is so hard to quantify and it’s a tough place to grow faith… endless is the list of things that could change everything.

houses or community?

But on Sunday I thought to myself, if I had had a plan, this would have been it. This is where I wanted us to get to, but I could not see how. I could pretend I did have a plan, and that it worked. Then I could write a manual. But there was no plan, only a dream, a hope, a future unseen.And love.

Thomas asked, if we don’t know where you are going, how then can we know the way? That is the beauty of following the Way.

And these 3 remain: faith, hope and love. The greatest of these is love.

the hopes sessions / 2 / doorstep

4 04 2011

hope on the doorstep

Hope is rising.

Sometimes hope can be found right on the doorstep.
Sometimes hope is trampled on.
Sometimes hope is a springboard for more hope.

This doorstep  is where the youth club meets.

barbed wire and trampolines

15 09 2010

I wonder what is is that makes you smile. I wonder what it is that makes you belly laugh. Ministry in St Helier provides plenty of those opportunities, once you learn to bend and flex and go with the flow and understand that unpredictability is the new predictable and bewildered is the new normal.

Mrs Vicarage and Marigold the Lodger were sitting in the lounge last week when an 8ft trampoline came walking down the drive and plonked itself outside our front door. Along with about 8 teenagers.

“We brought you this”
“Oh. What for?”
“For the youth club.”
“We don’t have a youth club.”
“Where will we put it?”
“In your garden.”

hello, I'm your new trampoline

I came home from the running club to find 8 kids bouncing on a trampoline outside my front door. Some rapid thinking ensued (which is tricky after doing 7 steep hill repeats) and we lugged it over our fence into our back garden. You have to laugh!  These are the same kids we have had problems with broken windows, broken vents and broken trust. Every day since then they have knocked on our door and asked to have a bounce. Some quickly drawn up rules and safeguarding meant this was fine, and we have loved seeing them behave like the children they so often aren’t able to be, and I  have enjoyed being given permission to bounce like a loon and pretend I’m in Glee. Even Mrs Vicarage had a go.

This is ministry, this is being church, this is being love, by God’s grace being able to flex like a trampoline even and especially when unexpected things happen. Because Jesus calls us to be a part of people’s lives and not apart of people’s lives, so when good things happen we relax into it and thank God that we see glimpses of the kingdom.

Yesterday things unexpectedly went belly up and some were extremely rude to our Scout leaders and obnoxious to me and the neighbours. It all ended in the church door being kicked and broken and the Police called. Sometimes the unexpected is the trampoline walking down the drive, and we laugh and enjoy it and share their laughter. Sometimes the unexpected is the anger and pain and the frustration at life which seems to end in the building suffering and the Police earning their stripes. And the trampoline of our grace being flexed to the end of its elasticity.

This is ministry, this is being church, this is being love, by God’s grace being able to flex like a trampoline even and especially when unexpected things happen. Because Jesus calls us to be a part of people’s lives and not apart of people’s lives, so when bad things happen we relax into it and thank God that we see glimpses of the kingdom.

When I saw this sunflower pushing through the barbed wire of our garden fence it seemed to me like a picture of the beauty and the pain of ministry, of living and working on St Helier, and of life for so many. The beckoning smile of the sunflower and the cruel sharpness of the wire. So there we are. Barbed wire and trampolines. An unusual combination for another unusual week…

detached and detaching. period.

4 05 2010

I wonder if in Jesus’ day they had bored young people hanging out around the synagogue climbing on the roof and causing trouble?  This week my new developing role of informal detached youth worker (known locally as “The Church Man”) turned into detaching youth from the church roof by getting them a ladder – they were v embarrassed to be stuck…

blaming eve?

Well, we had prayed for ways to engage with the young people on the street. We wanted to be the centre of the community. This wasn’t quite what we had in mind. Nor were the broken windows. But now neighbours have been asking for my name and phone number so they can tell me if kids are on the roof. There’s nothing quite like shared annoyance to get people talking…

Whilst talking with the kids I was asked some spectacular questions:

  • Do you own the church?
  • Why are there earthquakes?
  • Are you a paedo?
  • How did Jesus defeat death?
  • Can Jesus see me in the shower?
  • Will you crucify me so I know what it was like?
  • Can I ring the church bell?
  • How can Mary have been a virgin?
  • Can Jesus see you and Church Lady in the bedroom?
  • What is the Church of England?
  • Why do bad things happen?
  • Is it Eve’s fault we have periods?

It wasn’t my answers they were interested in. Thankfully, because saying that I am a boy and therefore don’t have periods probably wasn’t the answer they were looking for. Allowing questions, not being shocked or angry or annoyed, listening, laughing… talking to them human to human, accepting that they are pushing boundaries and want to get in trouble and not allowing myself to get pulled in that direction…

In my naive and glass-half-full mind, talking to them as adults and showing them love and respect will have a positive effect, will mean they muck around on the street but respect other people’s lives and properties and leave the roof alone. Jesus had brief encounters that changed lives, after all.

Maybe I’ll still keep watch though.

Now, back to musing on the Eve and periods question…
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